James is such a fantastic book! I hope by now you’ve gotten the chance to read through the first chapter. If you haven’t, don’t worry you can do that now.
…seriously, I’ve got time. I’ll wait.
Welcome back! How refreshing was that? I love reading James because of the perspective he gives us. Here’s an apostle of Christ and an early church leader and he was also Jesus’ brother. And you can almost hear him pleading with you to live the life that you claim. And that’s really the gist of the whole book. James urges readers to live out their faith. That their actions would match their convictions.
The book of James is written to Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and were living in community with other believers. But James was seeing all over the same thing that we see today: people who wear the Christian badge and wave the flag, but don’t actually represent Christ. It’s like every time I see Westboro Baptist and I can’t help but hang my head because nonbelievers see them claim the same faith that I do. Yet the two of us are so different! But it’s not just extreme cases like that. It’s when I see someone that goes to our church treat a waitress poorly. Or when one church speaks ill of another. Or when we walk around seeing all sorts of needs, but do nothing about them. This behavior is all over, I don’t have to convince you of that. And that’s why the book of James is so compelling. Because it speaks to us and convicts us so thoroughly. And he doesn’t do it like the apostle Paul, with eloquence and theology (Romans is hard), but he just puts it out there. He’s like that friend of yours that doesn’t care if people overhear what they say or how they take it. And it’s this brutal honesty that I love and I hope you’re coming to love too.
But this week, I want to look closely at chapter 1, verses 22-25. And it’s wrapped up in this whole section of hearing versus doing: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.
He starts off saying to not just be hearers and so deceive yourselves. Back in James’ day, reading and writing wasn’t a given like it is today. Many people didn’t have the ability to read. And even if they did, they probably didn’t have the money to own the written scriptures. Paper was expensive and copying text even more so. So generally, the only scripture many received was at meetings when the scroll was read. And I’d like to think that in the last two thousand years, we’re a little better. But truthfully, most of the people at our church only hear God’s word on Sundays when Pastor Brian is teaching; or our students on Wednesday nights. So the message to the original audience is generally the same as to us today. Don’t just hear it. Don’t consider yourself a Christian just because you hear God’s word. James says that if you do, you’re deceiving yourself! You’re joking yourself! You’re fooling yourself! James says, you hear God’s Word? Congratulations! For not a single thing!
Think he’s being too dramatic, this James the jerk? Consider these more politely written verses:
1st John 2:3-4 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
Matthew 7:21-22 (Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out many demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
James’ next sentence is almost a summary of the rest of the book…
DO WHAT IT SAYS.
He’s telling us that hearing the word or, if you’re in the minority of people who regularly read the Bible, reading the Word amounts to nothing if we don’t live it out. That’s harsh! I hope you’re feeling your toes getting stepped all over!
James goes on to compare it to a man that looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what he looks like. And I like looking at this a couple different ways. And I think each way pulls out a different truth tucked away in this analogy…
- Mirrors back in James’ day were nothing like the glass mirrors we have now. They were made from metal and flattened and polished as well as they could be. But the image they reflected was far from perfect. You can imagine looking at a piece of metal, with it’s blurriness and irregularities and not quite seeing a solid reflection. But there were pockets that showed a solid reflection. So in order to truly see yourself and get an idea of how you looked, you’d have to stare intently at it in all sorts of directions and piece together the image, based on lots and lots of observation. And with all the effort of seeing yourself, to forget what you look like when you walk away is preposterous! So it is with hearing or reading. You peer intently into God’s Word, studying, meditating, but then you walk away from it without the teachings you so carefully poured over. And all that effort is wasted.
- Me looking at a mirror and Megan looking at a mirror are two completely different occasions. When I look at a mirror, I’m really just checking to make sure I’m still unattractive. I’m still convinced that one day I’ll walk by and a tall dark Gosling-esque man will look back at me. He’ll wink, flash a brilliant smile, turn his chiseled chin and wave his perfect hair before I realize that it’s me, at which point I’ll weep uncontrollably. But that’s okay because I’ll even cry pretty. Where was I? Anyway, my looking in the mirror is really just a glance. Megan, on the other hand, is there with a purpose. She’s checking her hair, making sure there’s nothing in her teeth, playing with her eyelashes, and generally looking herself over to see how she can take her perfection to another level. She’s looking intently. She takes the time to determine what can be changed, what needs modified, how she can look better. She’s looking with a purpose. She’s looking with the desire to improve. So when she walks away from the mirror, she’s walking away more put together. When I glance by the mirror, I just walk away. If someone asked how my hair looks, I don’t know. Zits? Blemishes? No idea. Because when I looked in the mirror, I really didn’t care what I found. I was just glancing.
- Too often, I’ll hear a podcast or a sermon or just a solid word across the table and it will baffle me just how much it resonates with me. I’ll be super convicted by it and feel so sharply in that moment the change that needs to happen. And I don’t just feel that need to change, I start getting a picture of the me that could be. Maybe it’s a wiser me or more patient me. But I always realize that God is leading me to be a more complete version of myself or closer to the man that He has in mind. And I can see myself so vividly with these new changes. I see how it will strengthen my family and inspire my students and help change the community. And I fall in love with this vision of me and I want so badly to see it realized! But then I go to lunch or I have a meeting or Jax poops his diaper. And my mind goes somewhere else. And suddenly, I’m not just no longer seeing that image of me, I’ve forgotten about it altogether. And I’ll forget all about it until the next time I see myself and I forget it yet again. God so often moves in me to become more than I am. But after seeing myself, I walk away and completely forget. The vision is gone, as is the determination to become it.
He then goes on to contrast this forgetful fellow saying that a man who does not forget what he looks likes, but lives according to the Word is blessed in everything he does.
So basically there are two ways of hearing God’s Word. As a passive listener or an active participant.
Wow, that’s a thought! Are you a passive listener or an active participant?
Are you hearing just to learn some neat facts you can tell others? Don’t waste your time, you’ll probably forget them anyway. Are you reading it just because you hear that you should? The effort is good, but the motive is wrong. Try again.
Or are you hearing it and studying it with a genuine desire to encounter divine truth? Humbly seeking ways to grow closer to Jesus? When we do this, we not only see ourselves and the picture of what God wants for us, but it’s fueled with the conviction that it needs to be completed.
Think about that for a moment. How does that dictate our behavior? Allow me to make an analogy of my own. Owen and I can walk by the same mess in the same house. I have the desire for at least a fairly organized and clean home. Owen could not possibly care less. So when Owen approaches said mess, he identifies it and he acknowledges that it could be clean instead of dirty. He even knows that it would be better clean. But he is not fueled with the conviction that it should be. He just doesn’t care. Megan or I, on the other hand, could walk by the mess. And we could walk by either leisurely or with some other purpose, but our response is different than Owen’s. We are fueled with the conviction that it should be cleaned. So regardless of what we’re doing or what we’re on our way to enjoying, we must stop and clean the mess before we move on. That is essentially the difference between hearing and doing. Between walking away & forgetting our image and acting on it.
And what’s more is that when the mess is cleaned, there is peace. Especially for Megan. She can’t relax unless the house is clean. She will refuse to sit down and relax if there’s a mess nearby. She’s completely incapable. She’s a freak like that. But when it’s done, there is peace.
In the same way, when we act on God’s Word, we also have peace. We are living in the freedom of His Will. There is no peace like knowing you’re right smack in the middle of God’s plan for you. None in the world. It’s a feeling beyond peace and beyond joy. It’s a feeling of wholeness. Of completeness. (I could go on and on, but I’ll just stop there. I hope you’ve felt that at least a couple times in your life!) But beyond that, we will be blessed. The blessings of this obedient life will be realized. Joshua 1:8 says “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, (why, you ask…) so that you may be careful to DO everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
God promises blessing and success. But He does not just hand it out frivolously. God is much too good of a steward and much too good of a father to do that. He hands it out to those who are obedient.
…who hear His Word
…who write it on their heart
…and who do what it says.
Chances are that God’s Spirit has been speaking to you the whole time you’ve been reading this. Maybe He’s reminding you of a reflection you saw in the past, but forgot and never acted on. Maybe He’s reminding you of a place you’ve been wanting blessing and success in, but it seems to be avoiding you. Maybe He’s showing you an image for the first time. But regardless, He’s doing it for a purpose. But He won’t act it out for you. He wants you to choose. How will you choose? Will you look away and forget what you saw? Or will you immediately, in the moment that proceeds this, begin making steps toward doing?
If you’re married, have a conversation with your spouse tonight. Talk about the reflection you saw. Talk about what God’s putting on your heart to do. If you don’t have a spouse, meet up with a good friend or accountability partner. If you have neither, you’ve always got me! You have my cell number and you know where my office is at. But do something.
And maybe you’re feeling discouraged right now because you recognize that your conviction-to-do-something tank is low. Please let me know and I’d love to pray with you. Nothing combats uninspired faith like prayer to God and proximity to His people!
So guys, get after it! Lets all continue to grow together! I’m walking this out with you! When you see me, call me out! Ask me what I’m actively doing and keep me in check too! I love you and can’t wait to see you!
And just in case you need a little more motivation…